How a family's generosity opened university door for Grafton
THERE was an ulterior motive to Grafton brothers Merv and Colin Smidt's generous rental honeymoon for an exciting university development in the Clarence Valley.
Merv, Colin and his wife Cindy attended yesterday's announcement of the $1.3million State Government funding for the development of a Country University Centre in Grafton.
The organising committee chose the Smidts' building at 146 Pound St, Grafton, the former Red Cross Hall, and the family jumped at the chance.
"Between us we have 10 grandchildren living here and we would hope with this centre most of them would not have to go away," Colin said.
The Smidts, who have a strong record of community involvement, said when the committee approached them early this year to see if they were interested in renting the hall out for the centre, they were excited and a bit relieved.
"We've had the hall for four years now and we've never really found the right people to rent it to," Merv said.
"We've had plenty of offers, but nothing was quite right. And I'm glad, because this was perfect for us."
The family made the CUC an attractive rental proposal, which sealed the deal.
"This is something that Grafton needs, so we wanted to make sure that when they're setting up they can concentrate on getting everything going and not worry about paying the Smidts," Colin said.
"We've been here in Grafton since 1879 and the town has been very good to us, so it's right for us to to give something back."
Although the family has owned the hall for just four years, their association goes back nearly 70 years.
"The last renovations were done on this in 1951, after the 1950 flood," Merv said.
"They put this brick front on it and raised it up on the stilts you can see out the back.
"I can remember going to weddings and other things over the years."
To be ready for its first students next year, the building will need an extensive facelift, which local architect and Clarence Valley CUC board member Warren Steele is in charge of.
"The facade is charming and will stay largely unchanged," he said. "The main challenge is disabled access, but luckily there's space for a ramp.
"There will be a wall or two knocked out and a few put in and a coat of paint.
"It's around 250sqm which is the same as the other centres."
The building will also be set up as a communications hub with superfast wi-fi broadband.